AUSTRIA – Converting to modern robotic milking systems is being accompanied by increases in somatic cell counts (SCC) on Austrian farms, says the Agricultural Chamber.
Government animal health experts have warned farmers in Upper Austria that alterations in milking routines, brought about by the switch to automatic milking systems (AMS), could be behind deteriorating udder health.
They say average somatic cell counts on AMS farms is 30,000 per ml higher than average parlours.
In a press release, the Chamber said the switch from tethering or other traditional housing systems to milking robots ‘does not always go smoothly’.
The warning apportioned blame for bacterial spread - particularly Staphylococcus Aureus - to a greater number of animals being serviced by each robotic cluster.
A further concern is the lack of stockman input in milk verification undertaken at the udder cleaning stage.
The Chamber said that stopping the twice daily milking routine could be limiting herdsman/cow contact.
“Smaller milking intervals, of less than six hours, could result in greater stress on the udder,” said a Chamber spokesperson. “Contrastingly, longer milking intervals are suspected to offer pathogens longer time to multiply.”
Variations in udder cleaning success was also listed as a possibly reason for higher somatic cell counts.
The Chamber said: "The cleaning of the teats is not always according to the degree of soiling. Not every AMS is installed with an intermediate disinfection."
The Robot's Fault?
In response to rising mastitis cases, farmers have been urged to utilise extra information from computerised sensors on AMS systems to flag up mastitis cows.
Milk quality surveys show that AMS farms have SCCs 30,000 higher than standard dairies.
But the Chamber stressed there is variation within AMS farms and that highest achieving farms have respectable SCCs of 100,000 per ml - indicative of healthy udders.
Furthermore, an analysis of farms that have converted to AMS suggests many holdings had historically suffered with high SCC counts.
Farmer vigilance is therefore important and the Chamber added that clean, comfortable environments and appropriate housing densities are part of a management plan for good results.
Top image via Shutterstock